East of the Sun, West of the Moon
Carole Bellacera’s latest novel is the involving but not always comfortable story of a May-December romance in which what’s right is put before what feels right, and where happily ever afters don’t always immediately follow the first glow of love.
Leigh Fallon is the forty year old wife of a U.S. Congressman and mother of three who discovers in the prologue that her marriage is suffering from more than her husband’s apparent impotence and disinterest, and his constant work-related absences. When she finds the box of condoms in his shaving kit, she knows that – given her long-ago tubal ligation – they weren’t meant to be used with her. However, she is too much the consummate political wife to leave him, particularly given her children, only the eldest of whom, Mark, is grown. Thus she finds herself at Erik’s door, afraid to knock, afraid to turn away.
Erik Haukeland is a twenty-seven year old exchange student from Norway who has come to live with the Fallons, and study alongside Leigh’s 19-year old son. Since the moment he laid eyes on her, he has wanted Leigh, and knows she’s wanted him, too. Yet she refuses to discuss her husband’s offensive behavior and emotional and sexual neglect with him; he sees far too clearly. When he walks in on her holding the box of condoms, he knows he is close to the inevitable moment when they will be one. When she appears at his bedroom door, his dreams come true.
Many readers will not be comfortable with the adultery aspect of this novel, and there is a great deal of it. However, it’s hard not to feel for Leigh. She’s been emotionally and sexually alone for so long, and has just learned that her husband is not impotent at all – or rather, not with anyone other than her. And here is a handsome, intuitive man who wants to love her and be with her. I personally would have been a bit more comfortable with it if Leigh had had any intention, while embarking on her love affair (and it was truly a love affair from the beginning, not just sex) of leaving her obnoxious husband and making her union with Erik permanent. But she does her best to make their relationship trivial, even while she can’t help falling in love.
The characters in this book are extremely likable. I enjoyed Leigh and Erik, and Leigh’s children Mark, Melissa, and Aaron, as well as a few minor but memorable characters who show up in the second half of the book. There is a strong sense that these are very real people, and it would be a delight to meet many of them. Charismatic YA author Deanna Harper, charming and genteel Ward Radcliffe, and his partner Egan, the brilliant Irish chef, among others, all lend color to a memorable story.
The plot has more than one twist, but it is very well-rounded, even though the reader is never entirely certain that the HEA will come. The story is not light, and has some very difficult moments, but it will fare well with readers searching for good straight-up fiction. The romance aspects are charming, but the stories that unfold outside of the romance are probably the most interesting.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what prevents this from being a DIK, but the dreaded (but logical) long separation is definitely a part of it, and the reunion is on the rushed side, leaving the reader longing for a bit more closure. I won’t go into the details of the plot, but it’s well-written and not terribly predictable, and a strong B read. I look forward to reading Ms. Bellacera’s other works, if this book is any indication of their quality.